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Common Core merits discussion, minus the scorn

The Common Core State Standards, now generally known as Common Core or the Nevada Academic Content Standards, have generated about as much controversy as any educational initiative ever has. Stirred by a relentless stream of anecdotal horror stories, many teachers, parents and administrators have sought the repeal of Common Core. They have understandable concerns about how the standards were established, about implementation and about testing.

However, before throwing the baby out with the bathwater, we should consider carefully former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee’s observations about the Common Core State Standards: “They’re not something to be afraid of, indeed they are something to embrace,” he said.

Common Core was not created by the Obama administration. It is not an act of Congress. It is not the work of a left-wing think tank seeking to take control of our children’s education. It is not a curriculum.

Common Core is a set of common academic standards, primarily for English and mathematics, established by the bipartisan National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers.

The Common Core curriculum is set by local school districts and teachers. Initially, in an almost overwhelming positive response, Common Core was adopted by 45 states (plus Minnesota, which adopted the English but not the mathematics standards) and the District of Colombia.

Craig Barret, former chief executive officer of Intel Corp., said Common Core is “an important achievement” that “is essential for producing the educated workforce America needs to remain globally competitive.”

The National Parent Teacher Association extended its enthusiastic support for the “adoption and implementation of the Common Core State Standards.” Strong support also came from the Department of Defense, the American Federation of Teachers and the National Association of School Board Trustees.

There must be testing if standards are to have meaning. The Common Core State Standards are more challenging, and many parents and students will be sobered and surprised by test scores. However, if we are to see the long-term benefits, we must not let disappointing test scores lead to a knee-jerk reaction against Common Core.

The Nevada Board of Regents endorsed Common Core enthusiastically because Nevada faces a stark reality — 50 percent of recent Nevada high school graduates admitted to Nevada universities, and 60 percent of recent Nevada high school graduates admitted to Nevada colleges, need some form of remediation. While remediation is well-intentioned, it is much more expensive and far less effective than solid high school preparation. Sadly, students who take remedial classes are much less likely to graduate within six years. Those who drop out have largely wasted their own resources as well as state resources, given our almost desperate need in Nevada for college graduates to build a 21st-century economy.

Certainly, we should vigorously discuss how we can make Common Core more effective and relevant. We should also avoid any effort to make Common Core some sort of social engineering tool. But if we ignore the reasons why governors, business leaders, educators and parents all supported Common Core in the first place, we are profoundly misguided.

Twenty years ago, this country led the world in college graduates. Now we are 24th — and falling fast. We desperately need common educational standards that will prepare our students for both college and the workforce. Nevada cannot afford to fall any further behind, or we will become the new Third-World economy.

Michael B. Wixom of Las Vegas and Jason Geddes of Reno are elected members of the Nevada System of Higher Education Board of Regents.

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